Trailer Magazine

Decoding Australia’s trailer market

  • From the March 2016 issue.
Decoding Australia’s trailer market

Under leadership of the Australian Road Transport Suppliers’ Association, Australia has begun to de-mystify its trailing equipment market – with revealing results.

The true size and scope of Australia’s trailer fleet has long been the subject of intense debate. While the Truck Industry Council (TIC) has been publishing monthly sales data since 2008 in a move to increase transparency in the marketplace, there has been no comparable effort to unravel the mystery behind the nation’s multi-million dollar trailer market – until recently.

Aiming to take the guesswork out of what has been a highly secretive – and often misinterpreted – market, the Australian Road Transport Suppliers’ Association (ARTSA) entered into a co-operation with the National Exchange of Vehicle and Driver Information System (NEVDIS) in 2014 to decode the nation’s heavy vehicle registration data and extract trailer-relevant information from it.

Two years on, the Association has now published what could be the first registration data-driven assessment of Australia’s trailer population in the history of road transport. In the past, international consulting firms had been selling data based on OEM surveys or confidential information provided by axle suppliers, but according to ARTSA Chairman, Dr Peter Hart, now is the first time to accurately take stock.

“After having spent almost two years compiling data on the Australian heavy vehicle fleet, ARTSA is now in a position to show exactly how it changed over the past four quarters, including all additions and retirements compared to the previous year – and the findings are quite substantial,” he says – pointing out that semi-trailer registrations have gone down significantly over the course of 2015 and finished Q4 about 25 per cent below the 2014 reading. “The number of retirements, meanwhile, is significantly higher this year, having risen around 80 per cent.”

According to Peter, ARTSA’s unique data set is able to prove that the annual growth rate for semi-trailers over the past eight quarters was a slow and steady two per cent, with dog trailers performing slightly better at 2.8 per cent. In comparison, pig trailers saw negative growth over the last eight quarters, with an annual growth rate of -1.5 per cent.

He adds that the ARTSA data set can also provide information on the median age of the Australian trailer fleet, which, at 11.6 years, is widely considered one of the oldest in the developed world.
“In our research, we focus on the median age, where there are equal numbers of newer and older trailers. It shows that lead trailers – which are used in B-doubles – are the workhorses of the long-haul industry and substantially younger than semi-trailers,” he reveals.

With a look at the country of manufacture, about 95 per cent of all trailer VINs ARTSA has examined since collaborating with NEVDIS start with ‘6’ – implying that they are Australian-made. For recent additions, that proportion has fallen to about 90 per cent; meaning trailers are still overwhelmingly made locally in Australia.

“Over the last four quarters, from Q3 2014 to Q3 2015, there have been 9,621 trailers (all types with ATM > 12t, ed.) added to the registered trailer fleet,” says Peter. “If, on average, a new trailer has a retail value of $150,000, then the value of the added trailers over that period would be a staggering $1.44 billion. This does not include stock trailers, which do not get registered. If 90 per cent of the new trailers were made in Australia, then there is an Australian trailer manufacturing industry that is producing more than $1.3 billion per annum – a sizable result for a market that is still suffering under the impact of declining mining investment.”

Combined with Trailer’s globally publicised Trailer Builder Showcase, ARTSA’s data collection project has brought a new level of transparency and predictability to the Australian trailer market, says Geoff Casey, Executive Director, Productivity and Safety at the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) – the government body tasked with overseeing the national heavy vehicle fleet.

In analysing ARTSA’s complex new data set and combining it with the Regulator’s own research, it is the high median age of the fleet that is concerning Geoff the most – especially in regard to compatibly issues. According to the NHVR’s data specialist, operators in the market for a heavy trailer need to keep in mind the towing vehicle that will be used with the trailer, as incompatibility may otherwise limit the use of the trailer. “In some instances, such as incompatible tow couplings, this can result in a serious safety issue as the trailer and towing vehicle cannot be securely coupled,” he explains.

“The same is true for advanced technologies like Trailer Electronic Braking Systems (TEBS). While they have the potential to dramatically increase the safety of heavy vehicles, combinations of old and new units can reduce these benefits quite easily.”

As such, both the Australian Road Transport Suppliers' Association and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator recommend working with trusted OEMs that are able to assess possible compatibility issues and ensure a trailer is able to operate safely.

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